I woke up at 5am in February 2014 feeling something different. I couldn’t put my finger on it, but I was excited and felt like maybe today – 10 days past my “due date” – was the day. I ate some breakfast and googled “does early labor feel like period cramps.” I was so excited to have avoided an induction set for that evening, the reason why my sister Cary had flown in from CO the night before. Since my second trimester I had been reading zillions of positive birth stories. My favorites were those in Baby Catcher: Chronicles of a Modern Midwife. I spent a lot of time talking to Cary, who had two previous home births after cesareans (HBAC), about how amazing women’s bodies are. I wondered with great curiosity how my body would feel when labor started.
The cramps became stronger and I took a hot shower on hands and knees, rocking and singing Baby Mine from Dumbo. Nearly 7 years later the rest of time spent laboring at home is kind of a blur. I don’t know when my husband Nick or sister Cary joined me in the bathroom. I sat and rocked on the toilet covered in a robe for a long time. I remember Nick and Cary calmly telling me I am amazing. I remember smiling in my mind. Sometimes Nick sat on the edge of the tub across from me, rubbing my legs. Sometimes Cary sat smiling at me.
I labored quietly at first, then moaned “oooooopeeeeeeennnnnnn” later when the surges came on stronger. When my legs ached, Cary suggested I lay on my bed to rest. I laid down on my side, almost on my belly, when I was able to fully rest in between waves. I’m sure I fell asleep occasionally. As each wave came I was compelled to rise to my hands and knees to ride through them – and fell exhausted back to the bed as the wave left. Nick covered me again with the robe. This was my rhythm and ritual for a while. I was in my own world. At some point one of them called the midwife – I think for the third time – and it was suggested that I come to the birth center. Nick packed the car and I slowly made my way down the stairs and outside, stopping several times to sway and moan with each wave.
Nick recounted later that the car ride was the craziest part (well, that, and “all the poop” he said). He and Cary laughed later at the ridiculousness of the Sunday post-church traffic driving through Boston/Cambridge: people chatting in the streets, meandering cars – it was a beautiful day in February. I remember being on my knees in the back, leaning over the top of the seat and staring, absentmindedly – really, inwardly – out the window. I moaned and asked my sister to keep pushing on my back. As I rode the really really intense and frequent waves, I laughed to myself thinking about what the folks in the car behind us in traffic thought I was doing. Without my glasses I couldn’t see their facial expressions – but I imagined them and chuckled.
When I first learned I was pregnant I had called up an OBGYN practice at the nearest hospital to me and scheduled an appointment. After months of seeing an OB there and not loving our quick and shallow interactions, I learned about the Cambridge Birth Center. Nick and I went to a Meet the Midwives event there where they each talked about their birth philosophy and birth experiences. We expecting families in the audience got to ask our questions and were given a tour of the birth center. Immediately I knew I wanted to have our baby there. “Firing” my OB was a hard thought for me. I’m a non-confrontational person. Nick however, reminded me that I should give birth where I was comfortable and so I eventually switched. It was way easier than I thought it would be and I didn’t even have to actually “fire” my OB in person.
On my labor day, we arrived at the Cambridge Birth Center and found that I was 9cm dilated. Yes!! my inner voice cheered. There I was supported by two nurses and two midwives – one lead, one student – in a room with minimal equipment and a wonderful cozy queen-sized bed. I snapped “no talking please” when one nurse asked Nick how the traffic was. I learned later that they all took my request for silence absolutely seriously. One nurse removed her heavy clogs, they tied a towel around the door latch so it wouldn’t click when opened and shut, and anytime the lead midwife talked to the student midwife they spoke outside the room. All I heard in the moment was that each word spoken in the room was perfectly supportive of me. I felt so cared for, so safe, so loved. They told me how powerful I was, how graceful I was, how it looked like I had done this before. It all gave me fantastic confidence amid the intense waves.
When I started grunting I dropped to my knees beside the bed. Someone suggested that I come to hands and knees on the bed. I aggressively declined and they backed off. A wave later I decided that it was actually a good idea. I pushed on hands and knees for an hour. I was exhausted. The dilation phase was much more natural for me – just get out of the way and let my body do it. Reeealllly intense! But, for me, not too difficult to do. The pushing phase on the other hand for me was tricky. It required me to put in physical effort and I was exhausted. I read (and now see as a doula) that some folks find pushing to be really powerful. I whined in my mind. I didn’t want to. I whined some more and my sister held my hands and kept my eyes on hers.
“Reach down and get him” my midwife said as his body came out and I pulled my son into my arms and rolled onto my side. My husband says with so much love that he’ll never forget the sound of our baby’s first scream. I don’t think I heard it. My brain was too busy saying, “Holy shit. I did it. I’m done. I’m done. I did it. I did it.” I held my baby boy and sang him Baby Mine and snuggled.
I learned then that I was not “done”. Checking for tears, birthing the placenta (which for me was not painful but instead a feeling of relief), stitching me up, and “massaging” my uterus (I wanted to punch my lovely nurse) all took what felt like forever and was no fun at all. But then Nick and I were tucked into the queen-sized bed together with our son and talked about the birth and birth and family in general with our nurses, midwives, and my sister. Cary got me a turkey club from down the street and I scarfed it down.
After 6 hours of observation – breastfeeding off to a good start and I having had successfully peed and pooped – the now four of us piled back into the car and headed home. Tucked into our own cozy bed at home by 11pm.
“You just snuggle up with your baby,” my sister said. “You take care of him and Nick will take care of you.” I nursed Aiden sidelying in bed and slept with him – his belly to my belly in a breastfeeding curl that night and all nights, and naps, for the next 6 months after that. “The most perfect place for him to be,” Cary said and it felt so right to me. Cary peeked in every time I nursed to make sure the latch looked good and encouraged Nick to pay close attention too. They were so great and supportive. Breastfeeding was tough and frustrating at first, especially in the middle of the night and while getting him to latch and relatch. Thankfully, however, my nipples never hurt and I had Cary’s guidance and Nick’s vigilance to get me through.
The one shocking part of birth and early postpartum was the healing. I tore a bit sideways, since Aiden came out with his hand next to his cheek held there by the cord wrapped around his arm and neck. I was raw and sore. I laid on the couch or in my bed for many many days and Nick, my hero, brought me everything I asked for. Finally, weeks later, my vagina felt normal again – not puffy, not raw, not like my uterus was going to fall out as I walked. I wined a lot then, but I also took a lot of yummy warm baths by myself, snuggled with my baby boy, and netflixed and chilled with my new little family. 😀